Imagine if H.G. Wells and Stephen King decided to write an episode of Voltron, that is The Steam Man, and it kicks ass. Taking place in the turn-of-the-century American West, The Steam Man is an alternate ending to H.G. Wells’ War Of The Worlds. In this version aliens arrive on Earth due to the main character from Wells’ other novel The Time Machine’s opening up multi-dimensional portals that brought creatures from other worlds upon the present. From that description it sounds a little complicated, but really it isn’t. Authors Miller and Lansdale have a knack for keeping the exposition light and the action heavy, briefly going over what I just did in a few pages during the first issue.
The set up for the story is important but, come on, what’s really important is the titular Steam Man. A giant steam powered fighting machine built to combat the horrors brought into our dimension. The Steam Man is piloted by a crack team, each member specializing in something or other, they’re your usual giant robot crew. The entire thing is one big send-up to the fighting robot genre, but placed in a steampunk universe. Turns out that even though the Steam Man’s team is seemingly driven by reward money, their captain is motivated by revenge. Years ago the Dark Rider, a mysterious figure who slaughters entire towns and moves on, killed the captain’s wife, and ever since they have been chasing him relentlessly through the barren West. The comparison to Stephen King’s Dark Tower is obvious, and definitely fits in well with this comic, it’s apparent that the authors are huge fans of sci-fi and horror literature. The Dark Rider is actually the protagonist from The Time Machine that I mentioned earlier, but in his journey through time he became a monster, and now the Moorlocks (the bad guys from The Time Machine) are his minions and he has a taste for human flesh. So obviously he must be stopped at any cost.
Issue three finds our heroes closer than they have ever been to catching the Dark Rider and as they approach their first battle the Steam Man breaks down. The team struggles, but they are able to come together to get him standing again just in time. The Dark Rider sensed their approach and summoned a giant wooden beast piloted by the Moorlocks, and the battle begins.
Beautifully drawn by Piotr Kowalski, the art is detailed and fluent. Kowalski brings to life the crazy genre-bending ideas that this comic throws together and makes them sensible. Although sometimes bogged down by hit or miss jokes and a stale dynamic between characters, I think The Steam Man still finds its potential in the idea of itself. This is a comic that doesn’t take itself too seriously and yet still has an interesting plot with a lot of heart. A story doesn’t have to be deep to be enjoyable, but this comic is definitely enjoyable. As a fan of genre mixing stuff this hits all the right points. Sometimes steampunk can get overused, but in this case both writers don’t rely too heavily on it as a crutch. Fun, fast-paced, and weird, The Steam Man is a great read for those who love H.G. Wells and the fantastical stories he once wrote.
The Steam Man #3 Writers: Mark Alan Miller, Joe R. Lansdale Artist: Piotr Kowalski Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 12/16/15 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital